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Best Attractions in Miami-Miami BeachIn a city with dozens of attractions, you may have trouble deciding where to spend your time. Here are the highlights for this destination, as chosen by AAA editors. GEMs are “Great Experiences for Members.”

Lush, tropical south Florida seems a “natural” for points of interest such as the AAA GEM attractions Jungle Island and Zoo Miami. In addition to the rainbow-hued birds that are part of its name, cockatoos and macaws join collections of primates and reptiles at the former attraction as the star performers of stage shows in venues such as the Parrot Bowl. At Miami's zoo, the animals live in open-air, cageless settings designed to resemble their natural habitats. If Florida's typically muggy weather proves too much, visitors can see the zoo's residents from an air-conditioned monorail.

Things to Do with Kids

In addition to a parrot jungle, you also can find a Monkey Jungle in Miami. Since the 1930s hundreds of monkeys have roamed free here, swinging and chattering away as visitors meander through the park, observing the creatures' antics from protective screened walkways. Experience another up-close-and-personal look at nature at Everglades Alligator Farm, south of Miami in Florida City, where your admission includes an airboat ride into the Everglades as well as alligator shows and feedings and a chance to bring back a souvenir photo featuring you and a cuddly infant gator or snake. Marine mammals are the focus at Biscayne Bay's Miami Seaquarium, a Miami fixture since 1955. This is the home of television star Flipper and his dolphin, whale and sea lion friends, who cavort in shows presented throughout the day.

The subtropical outdoors can also be appreciated at several nearby parks and gardens. Over the Rickenbacker Causeway on the barrier island of Key Biscayne is Crandon Park, whose 2-mile expanse of white sand is consistently ranked among the nation's best beaches. Bring a picnic lunch and spend the day, or check out the park's nature preserve, tennis center or golf course. Coral Gables' contribution is Matheson Hammock Park, on the shore of Biscayne Bay. The park is known for its manmade swimming lagoon and nature trails through a hardwood hammock and thickets of mangrove trees. You won't have far to drive to get to Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden; a AAA GEM attraction it's conveniently next to Matheson Hammock Park. With 83 beautifully landscaped acres of rare palms, exotic plants, flowering vines, lily ponds, tropical fruits, lakes, cycads and a rain forest, the gloriously colorful garden is a treat to behold. A narrated tram tour is a great way to understand the scope of the garden.

Adventurous Things to Do Near Miami-Miami Beach

Imagine having a national park practically in your backyard. That's the case with Biscayne National Park, which is only 9 miles east of Homestead. Since 95 percent of the pristine park consists of water, a boat is necessary to see just about anything other than the visitor center which has exhibits about the park's four ecosystems: bay, coral reef, keys and mangrove forest.

If you have time for a slightly longer side trip, another nearby national park is well worth the excursion to explore the state's amazing and shrinking natural ecology. The main entrance to Everglades National Park, a AAA GEM attraction, is about 45 miles from downtown Miami, just outside Florida City. An escape from urban south Florida, this is the nation's largest remaining subtropical wilderness, sheltering many threatened or endangered plants and animals. Essentially a slow-moving freshwater river fed by Lake Okeechobee, the park is a labyrinth of mangrove waterways and saw grass marsh dotted with hammocks and salt prairies. The best way to see this fragile area is by following the 38-mile road from the Ernest Coe Visitor Center at the park's entrance to the Flamingo Visitor Center; elevated boardwalks and well-marked trails along the way provide an opportunity to see more of the park's interior.

While you might not want to venture as far afield as Key West, it's difficult to resist visiting at least one of the closest of Florida's Keys. US 1, the Overseas Highway, links the mainland and Key Largo, where you'll find John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. An easy way to view the reefs and their brilliantly colored marine life is on a glass-bottom boat trip, or you could opt to snorkel or scuba dive for a closer view.

Fun Things to Do Indoors

There's also plenty to do indoors in Miami. Sneaking a peek into the lifestyles of the rich and famous is always a guilty pleasure. Wealthy industrialist brothers James and Charles Deering, heirs to the International Harvester fortune, both established winter homes in Miami in the early 20th century. The two residences are now AAA GEM attractions.

James Deering built his bayfront retreat, Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, to resemble a centuries-old Italian estate. Its 34 rooms are lavishly appointed with antiques and objets d'art carefully selected by Deering on multiple trips to Europe. Statuary and fountains enhance the 10 acres of formal gardens. Charles Deering bought, rather than built, his waterfront estate, then remodeled the two existing buildings and added an impressive Mediterranean Revival stone mansion to house his impressive collection of paintings, tapestries and furniture. His property, the Deering Estate, is now managed by the Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department and is used for education and recreation. The 444-acre grounds also include an archeological site, an Indian burial mound, hardwood hammocks, a mangrove forest and nature and canoe tours.

In a renovated Art Deco District warehouse built in the same time frame as the Deerings' homes, The Wolfsonian-Florida International University art museum focuses on objects created between 1851 and 1945, mainly in North America and Europe. The museum interprets these items—glass pieces, metalwork, textiles, fine art, furniture, rare books and postcards, to mention just a few—based on how they reflect contemporary culture and how that culture shaped their design.

One of the two components of the AAA GEM attraction Miami-Dade Cultural Center, HistoryMiami explores the culture of south Florida and the Caribbean from a historical perspective. The museum's permanent exhibit, Tropical Dreams: A People's History of South Florida, chronicles 10,000 years using interactive displays, audiovisual presentations and hundreds of artifacts. The second element of the center is the Main Library of the Miami-Dade Public Library System which, in addition to cataloging important documents and books, contributes photographs and prints that further document local history. The Mediterranean-style cultural center was designed around an elevated plaza by noted architect Philip Johnson.

The Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science (Frost Science) offers visitors a chance to explore interactive exhibits, a 500,000-gallon Gulf Stream aquarium and a planetarium.

Historical Places to Go

Two very different nearby historical sites are well-worth a short drive. The older, and certainly more traveled of the two, is the Ancient Spanish Monastery, or, to use its official name, The Ancient Monastery St. Bernard de Clairvaux. It's probably a safe assumption that most monasteries remain at the location where they were built. Not so in this case. The saga begins in Segovia, Spain, where the monastery was completed in 1141; for almost 7 centuries it was occupied by Cistercian monks. After a period as a granary and stable, the cloisters and other buildings were purchased in 1925 by publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, disassembled and shipped to the United States for use at his San Simeon, Calif., estate. Instead, the 11,000 crates ended up in Brooklyn, N.Y., where they remained in storage until they were sold to Miami developers in 1952. Now a North Miami Beach Episcopal church, the former monastery has displays of furniture and art and is a popular venue for weddings and photo shoots.

Not quite as old, The Barnacle Historic State Park in Coconut Grove contains the home built in stages 1890-1928 by early pioneer and yacht designer Commodore Ralph Munroe. The site is still surrounded by a hammock of native pines, trees and subtropical plants, just as it was when Munroe developed a craft that would skim the shallow waters of the coastal shoals and reefs. Munroe's home, topped with a barnacle-shaped roof, contains many family possessions; his boathouse, where he designed and built his boats, also can be seen.

The focal point of The Holocaust Memorial, a AAA GEM attraction, is a 42-foot-high bronze forearm reaching toward the sky, as if grasping for life. Nearly 100 anguished figures can be seen clinging desperately to the sculpture, which is tattooed with a number from the Auschwitz concentration camp. The museum, conceived by a small group of Miami Holocaust survivors to commemorate the 6 million Jews who perished at the hands of Nazi Germany, was designed as a series of outdoor spaces, which also include an eternal flame and black granite panels etched with victims' names. Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel was the guest speaker at the memorial's dedication.

If you prefer to avoid unwieldy maps and missed interstate exits yet still see Miami's highlights, consider a relaxing narrated sightseeing excursion offered by Island Queen Cruises. Keep your camera handy as you sail along Biscayne Bay. You'll be able to create memories for your scrapbook from either an enclosed, air-conditioned salon or topside where you can enjoy the sun and ocean breeze as your yacht cruises past the scenic downtown Miami skyline; the Port of Miami; and Millionaire's Row, where celebrities live the good life in their palatial estates on Star and Fisher islands.

See all the AAA recommended attractions for this destination.

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Miami, FL

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Travel Information

Miami Population

399,457

Miami Elevation

20 ft.

Miami Beach Population

87,779

Miami Beach Elevation

4 ft.

Sales Tax

Miami-Dade County sales tax is 7 percent. An additional hotel room tax is 6 percent in Miami-Dade County, with the exception of Surfside and Bal Harbour, where the resort tax is 4 percent.

Emergency

911

Police (non-emergency)

(305) 476-5423 (Miami-Dade County) or (305) 579-6111 (Miami)

Fire (non-emergency)

(786) 331-5000 (Miami-Dade County) or (305) 416-5400 (Miami)

Time and Temperature

(305) 324-8811

Hospitals

Baptist Hospital of Miami, (786) 596-1960; Jackson South Community Hospital, (305) 251-2500; North Shore Medical Center, (305) 835-6000; University of Miami Hospital, (305) 689-5511; Westchester General Hospital, (305) 264-5252.

Visitor Information

701 Brickell Ave. Suite 2700 Miami, FL 33131. Phone:(305)539-3000 or (800)933-8448

Air Travel

Miami International Airport

Rental Cars

Miami and Miami Beach are served by many major car rental agencies. Hertz, (800) 654-3080, or (305) 871-0300 at Miami International Airport, and (305) 534-4661 inside the Fontainebleau Resort in Miami Beach, offers discounts to AAA members.

Rail Service

The Amtrak Station is at 8303 N.W. 37th Ave. For arrival information phone (305) 835-1221; for reservations and other information phone (800) 872-7245.

Buses

Greyhound Lines Inc. stations are at 3801 N.W. 21st St., (305) 871-1810, in Miami; at 16000 N.W. Seventh Ave., (305) 688-7277, in North Miami.

Taxis

Cabs are plentiful and operate on the meter system. Fares are $2.95 base fee plus $2.40 per mile and 40c for each minute of waiting. A $1 fuel surcharge and an airport surcharge may apply. The largest companies are Yellow Cab Co., (305) 444-4444, and Metro Taxi, (305) 888-8888.

Public Transportation

Transportation by elevated light rail, people mover and bus is available in Miami.

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